Dust off the turntable: Vinyl is back

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Marion Merritt of Records With Merritt says many people are rediscovering the sound of records.

By Joe Lambe

Records once seemed as rare as the neighborhood stores that used to sell them, but now both are back.

Vinyl may never again be more than a niche of music sales, but there is a big enough resurgence to create small, independent stores.

One such place is “Records With Merritt,” which opened in May at 1614 Westport Road.

Now it is partnering with local record label Money Wolf Music to promote both local artists and vinyl.

On Saturday, Aug. 23, seven songwriters are going to record an album in an in-store event. People can purchase the album then and get it later after it has been pressed.

The store’s owners are Ann Stewart, a manager at the Barnes and Noble on the Plaza, and Marion Merritt, who ran the music department there for 18 years.

merritt-recordsMerritt said she wanted to start her own store and did not learn until later that there was once another record sales store of the same name in Kansas City.

The other one specialized in jazz and gospel in the 1920s, she said, and a wide selection of jazz is also among her 2,000 albums.

These are not the same as the albums that led music sales decades ago.

Handle one and it feels heavy, far heavier than in the past. That prevents warping and still leaves room for extensive cover art and liner notes, Merritt said.

Records now mostly cost from $18 to $25 and often come with a way to put the music on an MP-3 player.

Vinyl sales may not be massive but they are one aspect of the music business that is increasing.

Their sales went up 40 percent last year and 36 percent the year before, Merritt said.

“Releases keep coming,” she said, with about 80 percent of new releases available on vinyl.

Jack White’s recent “Lazaretto” album has sold over 50,000 vinyl records. That is compared to over 100,000 CDs sold for the album, Merritt said, but shows vinyl is gaining.

Many of her sales are not new albums but re-releases, she said. It seems many young people want to experience things like Led Zeppelin on record.

Another favorite is the classic Miles Davis album, “Bitches Brew.”

But she offers wide variety. Among albums on a shelf: Burmese funk-pop by Princess Nicotine.

Vinyl albums force people to slow down, Merritt said, to sit and listen to the whole thing. The average digital listener skips to a new song after a few seconds, she said.

As for getting started or returning to vinyl years after you parted with all those records, the cost of a new turntable ranges from under $100 to $250,000.

merritt-records-3Merritt said she believes vinyl sounds warmer, but that is up to each listener.

Producer and mastering engineer Peter J. Moore this year gave his assessment of that warmth in an article in the Toronto Star.

Moore, known for his one-microphone recording of the Cowboy Junkies’ “Trinity Sessions,” said the issue comes down to square sound waves.

Those are when you go from absolutely quiet to super loud immediately, he said, like slapping two pieces of wood together next to your ear.

Digital, especially MP-3, reproduces waves like that.

“A turntable playing a vinyl record could not reproduce a square wave if it tried,” he said.

That is because the wire in the coil of a turntable cartridge is very long and wrapped around a magnet.

“So it takes a lot of time to get through that magnet and come out the other side. By the time it comes out, the sharpness, the ugliness has been rounded,” Moore said. “That is what people mean by warm.”

The seven artists that will record on Aug. 23 are: Cameron Joel Hawk, Nathan Corsi, Madisen & the Mama Bear, Dead Ven, Folkicide, Justin Penny, and Tommy Donoho.

One Comment

  1. Michael Stevens says:

    Mills Records blows this place out of the water.

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